Disclaimer: Don't own it. If I did, I wouldn't have left the ending so open.
After landing on the Vajra planet, life returned to almost normal for the majority of the inhabitants of the Frontier. The remaining intact Islands were brought to the planet's surface, giving the colony enough manufacturing and food production to sustain itself for the immediate future. Fold couriers were sent to Earth and Eden, notifying the governments there of both the settlement of the planet and the tentative peace that was struck with the Vajra. The majority of the citizens settled into the same lives they had before. Frontier City would be the home of the majority of the colony for the foreseeable future, and many returned to the lives they had before the war. The two biggest exceptions to this rule were the Frontier's songstresses, Sheryl Nome and Ranka Lee.
Sheryl chose to settle down on the new planet, eschewing any attempts to convince her to conduct another tour. Instead, she returned to the path that she had started months before, resuming classes at Mihoshi in the piloting track. As screwed up as the past few months had been, she still enjoyed flying, and wanted to be able to do so on her own. The fact that she already had enough credits from her pervious education and from credits granted for 'life experience', to dual major in the Entertainment track was just icing on the cake. She didn't need either certification, but it gave her something to do when she wasn't singing, and it allowed her to be near Alto without her coming out and saying that she was trying to do so. Besides, Ranka was there, and she wasn't about to give the younger girl any advantages.
Ranka, on the other hand, was quite possibly the busiest person on the colony. She attended classes, although she was being given credit, like Sheryl, for both her recent experiences, and her current position of being the only person who could communicate with the Vajra. This position kept the young girl's schedule full, and more than once Ozma Lee had been forced to tell the government that enough was enough and it was time for Ranka to go home for the night. While Sheryl was learning the same skills, Ranka had had them for years, and had been using them for months, and was better at interpreting for the Vajra hive mind. Too, the hive mind liked Ranka better. It had been suggested that Ranka drop out of school to leave more time for her work with the Vajra, but the green-haired girl had put her foot down and insisted that she was going to remain in class. Eventually, others would be able to 'talk' to the Vajra, and she needed some of the skills she was learning in school in any case, particularly the musical theory classes. And Sheryl was in school, and there was no way that Ranka was giving the idol a free run at Alto.
Ranka was walking towards school, the Vajra larva she had named 'Ai' following closely behind her. It had taken a few weeks, but Ai had learned to wait outside for her, usually sunning itself on the catapult deck the school used for X-gear launches. If only Ranka could get rid of her other shadow so easily.
"Hello, Klan," she said as she passed through the gateway and the micronized meltran fell into step with her. The petite blunette was wearing a copy of the same uniform that Ranka herself was. The pilot had started showing up at the school the same day that Ranka had resumed classes, and although the meltran didn't come out and say it, Ranka knew the girl was assigned to her as a bodyguard. Considering how important the government considered her, coupled with the fact that if anything untoward were to happen to her the Vajra might just resume their attacks on the colony, she was surprised that she got away with as little protection as she did. Of course, considering that Alto and Luca were also on site might have something to do with it.
"Good morning, Ranka-chan," Klan replied. "I heard the Commander gave the government another chewing out yesterday."
Ranka blushed heavily. She knew her brother knew such words, but he had never used them in her presence before. She had learned several new words, and she was sure that one of the things her brother had suggested was anatomically impossible. "Yes, onii-san was mad yesterday. I've had a meeting with the government every night for the past two weeks, and he told them I was getting a real weekend this weekend. I'd be excited, but I'm too tired."
Klan chuckled. While babysitting Ranka (and Sheryl, although that was more disaster management than protection) was not the most glamorous of posts, it let her spend time with people of her apparent, if not her actual, age group. The fact that these people were all Michel's friends, and were willing to tell her stories about her deceased love that had nothing to do with his military service, had never crossed her mind. Honest. "So no plans then?"
Ranka shook her head. "No. I didn't get home till late last night, so I haven't had any time to make plans. "Besides," and here she gave a sigh, "Alto's got patrol duty tomorrow morning. I think Onii-san's being cruel."
Klan laughed outright at that. "More like he wants you to actually get some sleep, and not make some outrageous plan to spend the whole day with Alto-hime." Klan chuckled again. She had latched onto Michel's nickname for Alto as just one more connection to her love, and while she knew it wasn't entirely healthy, the wounds were too fresh, and right now it was more important for her to be functional than for her to properly heal.
Ranka sighed again. "I know. It's still cruel. Sheryl has gotten to spend so much time with him recently; I'm starting to feel that I'm falling behind. Its hard enough to compete as it is." She pulled at the front of her blouse, and Klan could wholly empathize. Ranka was still slender and hadn't developed much of a bust, and while Ranka was cute, Sheryl was gorgeous and was a galactic sex symbol. Still, there wasn't much the meltran could do in those regards.
"Do you have to compete?" Klan asked, and Ranka stopped and looked at her oddly.
"What do you mean? Do you think I should give up on Alto?"
Klan shook her head. "No. I don't know what I mean. It's just something Nene and Kanaria and I were talking about the other day. Did you know we lost over thirty-five percent of the men between the ages of sixteen and forty during the conflict? And with the slight female-to-male skew our birthrate has had, the ratio of men to women is about 3 to 5. The government is already talking about possible solutions, from immigration incentives for males to artificial insemination to, er, allowing multiple wives."
Ranka froze. "EHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH?!?"
Klan nodded, and then shrugged. "Not like it's my problem. No one would touch me like this, and I've never met any decent zentran men. And besides…" She let her voice trail off. Ranka knew what 'besides' was.
Ranka's brain had finally rebooted. "Are you serious about the wives thing?"
Klan shrugged again. "It's just an idea. There haven't been any decisions made, yet, and Kanaria got all her information from Lt. Glass, so I know the source is good."
Ranka gave a little giggle, and the two resumed walking. "How is Cathy? Do they know if it's a boy or a girl yet?" Her brother and the pretty lieutenant had celebrated their survival and the planetfall in the oldest and most human of ways, and a month and a half later the couple had announced that Cathy was expecting. Now just into the second trimester, Cathy was past morning sickness and had started to get weird cravings, so that might account for a little of her brother's recent irritability.
Klan gave a pout. "If they know, they aren't telling. And Kanaria was sworn to secrecy on the matter." Klan's mouth turned up in a sly grin. "You want to hear some juicy SMS gossip?"
Ranka mulled the thought. She wasn't big into gossip, but Nanase was, and the drama of SMS had become her favorite topic after Sheryl and Ranka herself. After all, her friend's boyfriend was an SMS pilot, and drama there ended up affecting him in one way or another. "What's going on with SMS now?" Ranka asked quietly.
Klan giggled. Sometimes, Ranka thought that the micronization affected the meltran's brain. The few times Ranka saw the blunette macronized, she never giggled. "It seems that our military liaison is not the only member of the crew that's expecting."
Ranka frowned. "Not Kanaria?" Klan shook her head, and Ranka thought about what she knew about the crew of the Quarter. She didn't really know many of them all that well, but if Klan was bringing it up, it probably wasn't one of the ratings. The only women she had met of the crew, other than Kanaria, Klan, and Nene, had been her brother's fiancée and the bridge girls, whom she had met during that last, desperate battle against Galaxy. Wait, hadn't there been a minor scandal about the captain of the quarter and…
"The bridge girl, the purple-haired one? No, wait; it was the red-head, not the plunette."
Klan nodded. "Yep! Monica has a bun in the oven." Her grin was positively feral. "The military high command wanted to raise all sorts of stink about it, apparently, but with the conflict over, Exception Clause B is no longer in effect and we no longer fall under direct military control. So the Captain told the military to stick it. He and Monica are getting married next month." She shrugged. "It isn't that different than Max and Miria Jenius, back in the Zentran War. I don't see what the big deal is."
Ranka nodded. "I don't either, but I don't really understand the military. Even with Alto and my brothers in it, I just don't understand."
"Brothers? Oh, right, Brera," Klan said. "I haven't seen much of him lately, what do they have him doing?"
"I think Ozma-onii-san said something about tracking down the survivors of the Galaxy convoy." Ranka's face grew grim. "Most of the Galaxy people didn't know anything about the plot. Everyone that was in on it was onboard Battle Galaxy. If understanding the military means I can understand why those people did that, then I'd rather not understand." A few tears had formed in Ranka's eyes. "If they weren't so stupid, I could just be a normal girl! I'm tired of everyone needing me!"
Klan stopped, and Ranka lunged at her, hugging her and crying. She patted the verdant-haired girl on the back awkwardly. She was terrible at this sort of thing; it had been one of the barriers between her and Michel.
"Ranka?" another voice asked, and Klan looked up and was thrilled to see Ranka's friend (and Luca's girlfriend) Nanase. The plunette still sported several bandages, and a brace supported her injured knee, but she was finally recovered most of the way from her extended hospitalization. Klan waved her free hand in Ranka's direction, and Nanase came over and gently took the songstress off the pilot's hands. The two nodded at each other, and Nanase worked on comforting the exhausted and emotional Ranka Lee.
Sheryl was getting bored. She hadn't reached the point that she started acting out, that point that usually sent people running for cover for fear of her temper, but she was bored. She understood why she had to take theory classes, she really did, but she was much more of a hands-on person. She learned by doing. The only classroom subject she currently was taking that she paid attention to was her finance class, one of her 'electives' that she required for her Entertainment major, and that was more because she had always allowed Grace to manage her finances and her scheduling, and look what a disaster that had turned into! So while she understood taking physics, outside of the labs she didn't learn a whole lot.
Finally, the class ended for the day and she stood, stretching. She glared at a few of the boys that were watching her stretches much too closely for her comfort, but she needed to stretch her back after sitting for so long. Damn perverts. The only one she wanted watching her so closely was Alto.
Sheryl sighed. She didn't know what to do about the situation. She knew Alto didn't. The bishounen pilot adored both herself and Ranka, he had admitted as much during the chaos of the last battle, and the poor boy was unable to make a choice in the matter. She couldn't even blame him. While Ranka wasn't sensual like she herself was, the girl was undeniably cute, and Sheryl adored the green haired girl, as well. Truth be told, there had always been something about Ranka, going back to the first time the two of them had met. Sheryl had never gone out of her way to help anyone so much as she had helped the vernette, and she wasn't really sure why she had done so. She encouraged girls, surely, but something about Ranka had made her want to help the girl.
Had she known that the girl would be her primary competition for the man she had come to love…she would still have probably helped her. Ranka found a joy in song like she herself did, and do deny the girl that would have been cruel in the extreme. The whole situation was just extremely frustrating, in more ways than one. Now that she had admitted that she loved her Alto-hime, she wanted every bit of him. She wanted to love him and make love to him, and the constant holding pattern brought about by the situation was driving her to distraction. She had fallen asleep in Alto's arms many times, but she could never get him to take the next step. He was too honorable by far, but that's part of why she loved him.
She looked over at her rival in love, who was nominally taking the class as an elective, but was really here because it was the easiest class she could take that Alto was in. Ranka was being run ragged by her current schedule, but there wasn't much advice Sheryl could give the girl in that regard. Her fellow songstress HAD to meet with the government, if only to relay communication to the Vajra and give the hive's consensus answer in return. Sheryl was getting to the point that she could understand the exchanges between Ranka and the hive, but the few times she had spoken to the hive, there was always an underlying current of "where is Ranka?" She had a feeling that she would always be second-best to the hive mind, but that was alright with her. Ranka could have the hive mind. Sheryl wanted Alto.
She looked the other direction, toward the object of her desire. The three of them had come to an agreement not to do anything blatant in school, if only to keep the rumors under control. Her love was finishing up writing his notes on the lecture material. He was studious, her Alto, throwing himself into learning everything he needed to know to be the best pilot he could. His 'brother' had said, more than once, that Alto was playing the role of a pilot. Sheryl disagreed. The way Alto went about piloting, perhaps, was a role. But he loved flying with such a passion that it couldn't be an act. Or if it was, he had played the role for so long that it had become the reality. Her boyfriend WAS a pilot. It defined him.
Sheryl packed her materials in her bag – occasionally, the mundane tasks of school life amused her – and started to leave the room. The whole piloting class had X-gear practicals next, an area that she was lagging behind in, although she was doing much better. For one thing, she NEVER forgot to lock her X-gear after the panty incident. She also had an X-gear that was calibrated to her, as opposed to Luca. She had been surprised to learn that Luca actually had a more delicate touch than she did, and that the day she was using his gear, the sensitivity was set much too high for a beginner. She suspected that it was another one of those pranks that the old hands pulled on the novices. While she still cracked eggs on occasion, she wasn't nearly as clumsy as she had been the first time she had tried to operate a gear.
"Sheryl," a voice called out, and she looked over. The voice belonged to Lieutenant Commander Klan Klan, Sheryl's sometimes favorite meltran. Well, favorite might be pushing it, but she would always remember the first time she had met the meltran girl, at Formo while shopping with Alto. That was the day that Ranka had come out for the first time, after all.
"Hello, Klan," she replied. "Still stuck on guard duty?"
The blunette shrugged. "There are worse things. I get to spend time in Michel's school, with his friends, and I occasionally learn things. If I'm going to take over his slot, I need to know some of the things that you're learning." She looked over at her charge. Ranka had several vocal classes today, and Klan was persona non grata with most of the voice instructors. It wasn't her fault that she had terrible pitch. "You have X-gear next?" Sheryl nodded. "I think I'll be of more service with you for the next couple of hours."
The idol giggled. "You mean that you don't want to get thrown out for humming along badly again."
The meltran girl pouted. "That's mean, Sheryl."
"So," Klan said as the two were changing into their flight skins, "how are things going on the relationship front?"
Sheryl gave Klan a little glare. "You are the biggest busybody, always sticking your nose in. Didn't you talk to Ranka this morning?"
The SMS pilot nodded. "Of course. I want to hear your side of the whole thing, though."
The rosette sighed. "It's not really going anywhere, to be honest. Alto loves me, I know he does. But he loves Ranka too, and he doesn't want to hurt either of us. I don't think he can hurt either of us. So we've hit this plateau. I've been ready to tear his clothes off the past few days, I'm so frustrated. At least I get to sleep in his arms most nights, but that's only because Ranka gets home so late." She and Alto had continued to use the Lee apartment after things had returned to normal, with Ranka joining them while Ozma had moved in with Lt. Glass. It was awkward sometimes, but it kept the competition between the two on an equal footing, for the most part. Sheryl slept next to Alto almost every night, and Ranka claimed him the few nights she was home before they went to bed. Twice, now, Sheryl had woken up to find Ranka had joined the two of them once she got home. She wasn't quite sure how to feel about that.
"So why don't you?" Klan asked, and Sheryl looked at her. "Tear his clothes off, I mean."
The singer sighed. "Ranka," she said, as if one word could explain it all.
"She's your competition."
"But she's also my friend," Sheryl replied. "And doing that would be…it would feel like I'm cheating."
Klan nodded. "You want to win him without sex. That, I can understand. That's always been the only way I could win in love, so I can respect that." The blunette looked thoughtful for a moment. "I wasn't sure if I was going to tell you this, but I already told Ranka." She quickly related the gender ratio problem, and the Frontier government's possible solutions. "So it's definitely an issue, right now. Getting men to immigrate is fine, but it's not like there are a lot of colonies with a surplus of them, except maybe zentran battalions, but most of the zentran aren't exactly primed and ready for the dating scene."
Sheryl looked thoughtful. "You're not telling me this just to mess with me, are you?"
The meltran shrugged. "No reason to. Nothing's been decided, of course. And the only reason I know is because of Cathy. But something is going to have to be done. I confirmed the numbers myself, on the death rates." Both girls winced slightly at that.
Sheryl looked at Klan for a moment. "Klan, when's the last time you macronized?"
The blunette had the grace to blush. "Right after we landed, I macronized for a few days to help with search and rescue. I've been micronized since."
"Hoping you'll grow if you stay this way?"
Now Klan flushed with anger. "That's not funny!" She sighed. "Besides, it won't help. I know why I get stuck this size, it's a micronization thing. Let's just say there's a reason that zentran kids don't get micronized until after puberty."
Sheryl felt bad for her joke, now. "I'm sorry, Klan. I was just teasing you. Ready to go fly?" The meltran nodded, and the two went off to class.
Contrary to popular belief, Saotome Alto knew exactly how lucky he was to have to beautiful, talented girls in love with him. He also knew that he cared for them both, loved them both, which is where all his problems lay. Which is why he was going over his pre-flight checklist for the patrol he had the next morning, before he turned in for the night in his barracks room, rather than think about the issue at the moment. Unfortunately, when your squad commander was also the brother of one of your girlfriends, he wasn't often allowed that option, and he suppressed a sigh as Ozma Lee walked into the hanger.
"Alto," he said in his gruff manner, "come with me." He turned and Alto did sigh, this time. Dealing with Ozma had become difficult as of late, and Alto wasn't sure if it was the Ranka situation, or the fact that the Commander's fiancée was a pregnant hormonal mess.
The two of them stopped in one of the observation rooms that were underwater now, the dark water barely illuminated by the moonlight and ring-light filtering down through the depths. The two of them stared out the window for a moment.
"Alto-kun," Ozma said after a few minutes of silence, "I know your situation is difficult. I know that I probably have only added to your difficulty. I've been trying to look out for my sister, for Ranka, the only way I know how. I've had to protect her from so many things for so long, that being over protective is my way."
"Let me finish," the senior pilot interrupted. "I didn't want to talk to you about this, but Cathy convinced me to. So let me say what I need to say." He paused, seeming to collect his thoughts. "We lost a lot of men in the war with the Vajra," he said, and Alto turned to look at him more closely at the apparent non-sequiter. "The official census we took right after landing put us at about a 3 to 5 ratio of men to women of military age." This fact shocked Alto; he hadn't realized just how bad the war had been. "This means that there is a huge deficit of males in the age group that would normally be relied upon to expand the colony's population in the next few years. So much so, that the government is taking action." The commander's face grew pained. "It has been noticed, at the highest levels, that you have a relationship to Ranka and to Sheryl Nome. As a war hero, your own status is rather high with the population at the moment." Ozma paused, and seemed to be struggling with himself.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to tell him," a quiet voice came from the doorway, and Lt. Cathy Glass stepped into the room. "They were stupid to ask you to do so." The lieutenant was still as pretty as ever, her middle just beginning to show her pregnant state, and she walked over to Ozma and wrapped an arm around his waist. "What the commander is trying to say, and is unable to, is that the government is going to announce in a few days that there will be a new law announced allowing people to take multiple spouses. There has been much agonizing over the law, but the fact is that the population is too skewed at the moment. It's not a permanent law, it is only in effect for the next five years, although any marriages will of course be permanent." She sighed as well. "The reason we are telling you this is, the government is hoping to use you, Ranka, and Sheryl as an example of how the law can work."
The words took a moment to register in Alto's mind. "Are you kidding me? Why in the hell would I agree to something stupid like that?"
The lieutenant's face became wry. "To being a poster child, or to marrying Ranka and Sheryl?"
Alto's brain locked up again, before he exploded. "Damnit! Either one! I…I…" his anger drained away. "I don't want to hurt either one of them. I would never have survived the war without them both. But this is…"
"Necessary," Ozma interjected. "Do you think I like this?" he asked. "Do you think I like the idea that my sister, my Ranka, would have to share you? I hate it! But Cathy is right. Right now, we need this policy. Sooner or later the people will realize that there aren't enough men. We need to be ready for it. And as much as I hate it, the three of you are the best example we could hope for. You all respect each other. You all care for one another. And you all love one another. Feh, look at what love does, Alto, I'm talking to you about this instead of kicking your ass."
Alto sighed. "I understand. Give me some time to think about this whole thing, I wasn't expecting to have a talk like this today."
Ozma and Cathy both nodded. "Think about it during your patrol tomorrow, and take some time and talk to Ranka and Sheryl when you get back. It's not something to jump into lightly."
Alto nodded. Somehow, he didn't think he would be getting much sleep tonight.
Author notes: This is one of those random things that popped into my head. I generally do original fiction, but this idea would not let go, so I wrote it out to clear my brain. I'll go on record as being more of a Sheryl fan (the cute girl always seems to win over the pretty one in anime, so I was cheering for the pretty one for once), but I wanted to do something that was a slightly different take on the typical anime 'harem' fic. For one thing, it will be confined to the triangle; Alto will not suddenly be besieged by women. The law is not one of those 'you HAVE to do this' laws, but rather it allows for unusual solutions to unusual situations. And for another, it will not be an instant solution to all the problems they face. All three will have to adjust to the implications.
And I wanted to have an excuse to write Klan. And yes, I promoted her.
Names and terms:
'Michel' is how I am spelling Mikhael Braun's nickname. Alto always pronounces his full name like the Russian, so Mikhael is the spelling I will use if it comes up.
Blunette, plunette, vernette, and rosette: I hate writing 'blue-haired' or whatever over and over. I've seen blunette and rosette on the net before, for blue and pink hair respectively. Plunette is based on 'Plum' and the similar sound to blu- and brunette. Vernette is based on 'verdant' and 'verde', terms meaning green. And lets face it, any society that had to deal with zentran hair colors for fifty years would come up with terms for them.
Zentran vs. Meltran: Zentran are males, although it is also the catch-all term for both genders of the race. Meltran refers to females. Really, if you don't know this, why are you reading this fic?